The Holidays Are Upon Us - October 24, 2011

"...holidays at my house, and the houses of many of the people I know, are changing in a very big way..."

I think of Halloween as being the "official start of my holidays" since Halloween also sets off a series of family birthdays, then Thanksgiving, then more birthdays, then Christmas, then, finally, New Year’s. Halloween begins a whirlwind of celebrations in this household, from which I sometimes recover.

I like Halloween, partly for its just plain silliness: a time to play and be something other than our normal selves. There’s no great pressure to cook the great meal or purchase foods other than junk. I love the frivolity of it. And I no longer have to worry about helping young children figure out creative costumes, which has definitely eased the pressure.

Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s, in a family of six, meant enormous planning (especially when one has blended families, and has to incorporate the wishes of the other parents and siblings). There were constant calendar changes in meeting requests, arguments back and forth, plane reservations to make, conversations with the other families about who needs what, and glasses of wine to calm me down. We
managed it with a varying degree of success, I guess.

Then we had years where siblings weren’t speaking, outbursts regarding presents that appeared uneven in value, multiple reminders of past grievances, arguments about using cars, borrowing holiday clothes and shoes, requests for money that wasn’t there, last minute invites of boyfriends, and holiday dinners where a turkey was once rumored to have been thrown across the floor. Egad! The holidays are here!

But since this column is about changing times and shifts in general, I can safely tell you that holidays at my house, and the houses of many of the people I know, are changing in a very big way – and we all have adjustments to make. Most of my friends have children who have graduated from college. Many of their kids have moved on to other cities (primarily East and West coast), and have created their own lives. This is a good thing.

The change, however, in how holidays are done, is gigantic. We are so used to getting those jungle drums of the heart starting to gear up in the middle of the night about now, keeping us awake with intense worry about money, gift-giving, creating equality among our children, plane reservations, activities and party-planning, that when there is the possibility of not one single child coming home for the holidays (because of work, relationships, money, etc.), we don’t quite know what to do. Holiday stress is like the winter cold: it always comes. So what am I going to stress about?

Other shifts have to do with gift-giving. We have replaced the five or six gifts we used to give to each child with one gift per holiday. Each gift, for the last couple of years, seems to have been less expensive than the gift the year before. Now that tells you something about what is happening in our economy, as I know that we are not the only family doing this.

Iris, my German mother-in-law, used to give my girls very practical gifts, which I used to deem unromantic or fun, but now our gifts have also become more practical. We tend to give our children something that they really need as opposed to something that they simply want. Naturally, they always need something that will make their lives easier, more high tech or more comfortable.

This year, then, the holiday season is bound to be slightly different for some of us than holidays in the past. Children grow up, the economy changes, the political landscape is shifting, people are concerned about jobs and money. Maybe some people won’t be home for the holidays because they’re occupying Wall Street somewhere, in some park. Do they get turkey? How do friends and families send gifts? Must the gifts be non-corporate?

My personal challenge is to figure out what to do with myself if, per chance, I don’t have my children home for the holidays. I might have to accept that they truly have moved on with their lives and that I am no longer essential to their holiday experience. A black cloud will probably descend over me for a short while and I will have a case of what Winston Churchill referred to as ‘The Black Dog,” after which time, I may go online to see if there are any deals on tickets to Hawaii.